New UN peace plan for DRC
Eight African leaders will today launch a new bid to calm eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to which the UN wants to send an "intervention brigade" and surveillance drones to counter rebels.
An uprising by the M23 group, which took a large chunk of territory in November, forced the UN to broker its latest attempt to end more than a decade of strife.
The presidents of the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Republic of Congo, South Africa and Tanzania will sign - on the sidelines of an African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - a commitment to end the conflict, UN officials said.
Alongside the diplomacy, the UN wants to toughen its mission in the DRC with a 2500-strong "intervention brigade" to tackle M23 and other armed groups. Tanzania and South Africa are leading contenders to provide the first special force, UN diplomats said.
"It's not simple peacekeeping, this is peace enforcement. It is much more robust and needs the right combination of troops," said a UN peacekeeping official.
The three battalions will "neutralise the threat of the armed groups through targeted operations against command and control structures, against specific sites", said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because UN leader Ban Ki-moon has not yet announced the force.
Ban has been working on a security plan to present to the UN Security Council since the M23 took the city of Goma in November.
UN experts have accused neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda of aiding M23. Both deny a role.
The "intervention brigade" will be charged with tackling all armed groups that have terrorised the resource-rich region for the past 15 years.
The Security Council has authorised the use of surveillance drones to monitor the DRC's border with Rwanda and UN officials hope the troops and new spies-in-the-sky will be operating within three months.
The UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), is the UN's biggest peacekeeping force. It has about 17000 troops and under its Security Council mandate is allowed to have up to 19800.
UN officials are still working on a final version of the political accord but are confident that it will be signed in Addis Ababa today.
The tougher UN force is "part of the overall package that the secretary-general is presenting to the region in addition to the political framework that we believe is the key to dealing with this issue," said a second UN official.
"The leaders of the region have agreed to work together and to address the underlying economic, military, and political issues, and to have that [agreement] binding on them."
A series of regional peace accords have been signed since the late 1990s but have collapsed. The UN hopes the latest attempt will be more successful because it will hold the leaders "accountable", said the official. The accord will set benchmarks for each country in respect of progress in ending the violence which will be monitored. Under the accord, the eight presidents will meet twice a year to discuss efforts to bring peace to the DRC, the official said.
Ban will name a "high-profile" special envoy to the Great Lakes region. The M23 and President Joseph Kabila's government this month agreed on an agenda for peace talks.
"One peace initiative after another over the past dozen years has failed to address the root causes of the Congolese war," said John Prendergast, a former adviser to the US government on Africa.
"Short-term security deals simply shore up Kabila's eroding power and remove international pressure" from Rwanda and Uganda for helping M23.